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Using Course Evaluations

13 Jan Posted by in Academics, Policies | Comments Off on Using Course Evaluations

Having one’s work assessed is always a bit nerve wracking, and this is true for faculty and administrators as well as students. We have a current issue in this regard that’s worth airing.

For several years we have submitted comments as well as statistics from student course evaluations to department chairs or their equivalent, prior to giving to faculty. The results help in the assessment of certain kinds of faculty, most notably adjuncts, but the main purpose is to allow chairs to offer some guidance in cases where repeated concerns are expressed. There is no intent to have the comments shared beyond the chair level, or to have them referred to in promotion actions.

Some faculty apparently object to this, and the spread of electronic forms has rekindled some debate. (In point of fact I think the question of electronic vs. paper will prove irrelevant to the discussion.) I do find these faculty concerns misplaced, without wishing to throw down any gauntlet this early in the new year. I believe the utility of the comments in guidance (where numerical data alone often do not provide adequate indication of problem areas) outweighs other risks, and as far as we can determine most faculty largely agree. Frankly, I worry more about cases where chairs do not pay attention to indications of remediable teaching lapses, with the result that concerns become inescapable when  promotion time rolls around, than that there will be some misuse. I believe our chairs are fully capable of recognizing when a hostile view simply reflects an aberrant student experience and can let this sort of thing go without remark. I also note that most programs now combine some other assessments of teaching with the student material, which is a highly desirable complement.

So I do think we should continue present practice, all the more in that student comments through other electronic media are becoming increasingly available; it’s good to have one set of reactions formally involved in our own procedures.

I might note that the regular faculty evaluations of upper administrators often include comments from which a faculty committee selects for publication to the entire campus community. The result is sometimes painful, sometimes enlightening  (and the two results can be coterminous). I am not of course advocating comparable publicity for student comments.

Finally, it’s worth observing as well that many students think we don’t take survey results seriously, whether quantitative or qualitative. Pretty clearly that’s not the case, and both faculty and administration can help students understand that the whole operation is a significant element in our self-reflection process.